Sketches Of

Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers


(pages 48-50)

Jonathan, son of Joseph Bishop, was born in Washington County, Virginia, June 8, 1795.  In early life he came with his parents to East Tennessee, settling in Hancock County.  At the age of 19 he was married to Julia E. Clark, a daughter of Francis Clark, Lee County, Virginia.   He was married a second time, to Elizabeth Williams, of Russell County, Virginia.   He had ten children by this first marriage and four by the second.

The circumstances of his conviction and conversion are striking.  His brother James, who afterwards became a preacher, had married into a Methodist family.   When some one urged his wife to become religious, she replied, heartbrokenly, "I'd like to - but Jim is going to hell, it seems like, and I'll just go with him."   Pierced by this arrow the husband said, "She shall never go to hell on my account," and at once went to praying for himself, and was converted.  Immediately he sent for his brother Jonathan, who lived twenty miles away, to come to see him without delay, although it was the busiest season of the year.   Leaving at once their pressing work Jonathan and his wife came in haste to se what was the matter.  Riding up to the house he said, "Why did you send for me at so busy a time?"   "I want to pray for you," was the reply.  Jonathan at once took in the situation, and noting the marked change in his brother was led to pray for himself.   He was soon converted, and was baptized, it is supposed, by James Gilbert, united with the Mulberry Gap Church, Hancock County.  Under Brother Gilbert's influence he developed into a preacher, and at the age of 30 was ordained to the ministry by the authority of the Mulberry Gap Church.

The first five years of his ministry was in Hancock County, the next twenty-five in Lee County, Virginia.  Here he was pastor of several churches, witnessed many gracious revivals, and was instrumental in organizing and building up a number of good churches.   From 1854 till he fell in the harness, Sept 8, 1879, his ministry was in Tennessee, at Mulberry Gap, Sneedville, Third Creek, Valley Grove, Salem, and other places.

Jonathan Bishop was an old style preacher, with a limited education, and having some of the "peculiarities" of voice and manner that were common in many place among Baptists of his day.   But he had real power over an audience and was a moral force for good wherever he was known.  As a speaker he was earnest and sympathetic;  he was a rapid talker, and had the gift of exhortation.  He had a great zeal for the salvation of souls, and his delight was in holding meetings  - protracted meeting work was his forte.  An old-time  friend and admirer of Brother Bishop gives this testimony: "His courage, his devotion to the cause of Christ, and his untiring labors to elevate the standard of morals in his community, are pleasant memories of that grand old soldier of the cross that I never can forget."

Among the many converts of his meetings, Brother Bishop reported one Methodist "class leader," one "household" of believing Methodists baptized, and the conversion and baptism of a number of men who afterwards became useful ministers of the gospel.

From J. C. Bishop's "Reminiscence" of his father I cull the following incidents.   A meeting-house was wanted in Lee County, Virginia.   Following the leadership of Jonathan Bishop, from forty to fifty men got together on Monday morning and went to work to build a house of worship.   By Saturday night the logs "were cut, hewed, put up, the house covered, and the floor laid, all ready for the Sunday service."   We give this as a concrete example of "dispatch" in doing the King's business, which "requires haste" more often than we give it.   The following also serves to point a moral:  Brother Bishop placed great emphasis upon reading the Bible for light and guidance, even upon one's knees.   Providence, on one occasion, gave him valuable assistance in enforcing his teaching.  It was November 18, 1833, the solemn night when the "stars fell" so wonderfully, and many thought the world was coming to an end.  The preacher's house was filled to overflowing with excited people, who had come to pray and be prayed for.   There was scarcely a Bible in the neighborhood, on that occasion, that didn't shed its dust in a hurry, and become for once the Book of books.   Two men professed religion and turned preacher - but whether they held out faithfully not the writer is not informed.

The Bishops are a numerous and noted family, of high standing and influential.   It is largely a family of preachers.   Three brothers, Elisha, Jonathan, and James, were Baptist preachers.  J. N. and W. W. Bishop, of the younger generation, and possibly others, are among our most useful ministers.


Burnett, J .J.  Sketches of  Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers.  Nashville, Tenn.:  Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.


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